In one of the more poetic moments of the Chronicles of Narnia, a guinea pig slips through the fabric of our world and finds itself in a transcendental woodland dotted endlessly with ponds. All is still. It later turns out that each pond is home to a separate universe. Our fluffy hero is a sort of unwitting higher-dimensional cosmonaut.
The vision of "the wood between the worlds" has stuck with me ever since I first read it as a child. But I now think that, in a genuine sense, we live in the wood. Surrounding us on all sides in our fractal world are swirling depths of life evolving, each complicated enough to be a world in itself. Millions of tiny fungi are hurling microcosmic lassos around passing nematode worms, driven by proteinaceous conversations between unseen genes; trillions of bacteria float in ethereal silence through private watery voids; miniature spiders are adventuring through the atmosphere suspended beneath diaphanous balloons of silk; ascomycetes in plumes of Saharan dust are wafting through Atlantic skies; and Demodex mites are crawling over the creases and follicles beneath your eyelashes like crampon-wielding explorers struggling over crevasses. Meanwhile, photons are careering into your retinas, splashing through oceans of rhodopsin eight minutes after erupting from nuclear explosions on the surface of the sun; behind your eyes, explosions of sodium ions are ushering action potentials down a filigree lacework of nerves; leaf-mining insects are scrawling their wavy signatures through two-dimensional flatlands; strepsipteran females, shrunken by relentless selection to lumps of ovary-bearing fat, jut from the stergites of paper-wasps; and we ourselves are navigating the world as nearly-chimaeric beings part-composed of bacterial cells vastly outnumbering our own. Our own universe is the "wood between the worlds" - and we can peer into each world-pond and find "caverns measureless to man".
We really should refuse to be sedated by the "anaesthetic of familiarity". However mad it sounds, life is dancing around us in a richness that defies belief. It makes you want to laugh.
Hi! I'm Patrick - an early-career postdoc in behavioural ecology. I completed my PhD in 2019, focused on Polistes paper wasps in South and Central America. I'm currently a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow and Simons Society Junior Fellow in the Rubenstein Lab at Columbia University (New York) and the Radford Lab at the University of Bristol (UK), looking at the social behaviour and evolution of Africa's incredible wasps! I'm always keen to get involved in outreach to spread the word about these amazing animals.
Patrick Kennedy, University of Bristol
A blog about research, fieldwork, and trying not to get stung by big tropical wasps too often